What’s more depressing than sitting in a doctor’s waiting room? (Or is that waiting in a doctor’s sitting room?) The answer: Sitting there with nothing to read but medical magazines. Yuck.
But I get bored easily, so I started thumbing through a publication called WebMD, and I flipped open an article by Sara C. Mednick, PhD (Asst. Prof. in Psychiatry at UCSD). It sported a catchy title: Got a Problem? Try Sleeping on It. Well, if you’re in a creative business, then you’ve always got a problem to solve. In fact, writing scripts is mainly problem solving. Like:
“How does Spiderman chase a truck through the countryside when there are no skyscrapers to swing from?” or “How does Indy strap himself to the submarine periscope with his bullwhip when he left it dangling from a truck axle back in the desert?” or “How do I make the Smurfs even vaguely interesting?”
So here I had this fascinating article, telling me –scientifically– how the sleeping brain solves problems. Yippy! The reason to rejoice is this….
I once heard a negative story from a college professor about this very topic. Evidently, a ballet company costumer was struggling with the problem of getting all the dancers’ tutus to stand straight out. He had tried different fabrics and starch and who-knows-what-else. But the tutus always drooped. Frustrated, he went to bed without an answer.
Then it came to him in a dream! He woke up, delighted, and instantly wrote down the solution on a nightstand notepad. The costume designer went back to sleep, smiling – his elusive problem solved. And in the morning he scooped up the notepad to read his dream-fueled solution: “Nail boards to the dancers’ legs.”
That story always convinced me that sleep was NOT the answer. But here was Dr. Mednick refuting that tale in black’n’white! And here’s what she said:
“Creativity is the ability to connect disparate ideas in new and useful ways.”
Okay, good. Can’t argue with that. But what does sleep have to do with it? Well it goes something like this. While awake, information is held in the hippocampus where it sorta sits around waiting to be processed. During REM sleep, the hippocampus shuts off, and the info moves to the neocortex (a warehouse for all our experiences). Once there, that new info can then connect or associate with our other memories – giving us “the ability to connect disparate ideas.” Voila! Creativity.
I certainly don’t want to steal Dr. Mednick’s thunder (she’s written lots of material on sleep), so please read her original articled here: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/need-to-solve-a-problem-try-sleeping-on-it). Now I’m no scientist, but as a proponent of creativity, I strongly urge you to be as actively innovative as possible!!! …by instantly going to sleep. Night.